Posts Tagged 'three appearances of Jesus'

Three Appearances, 6

millennial-kingdom

The Glorious Reign of Christ

God’s plan for His kingdom on Earth takes up a pretty hefty body of Scripture. In spite of that, there are a great many interpretations and explanations as to the nature of the Millennial kingdom. To some, the kingdom program of God is the same as the eternal state – heaven, the believer’s final destination. To them, God’s Kingdom has nothing to do with anything on Earth. There are others who think the Millennial kingdom is a spiritual thing – the kingdom is in the heart of each believer; that Jesus is king of that spiritual kingdom as He rules from the throne of our hearts. And there are others who see the kingdom as something man achieves on Earth through his efforts. As more and more Christians are elected to positions of power, they will change the cultures of the world and at some point, society will make the leap to its utopian state. And then there are those who see the kingdom as a sort of patriotic movement within the nation of Israel and then there are some who view the kingdom as synonymous with the organized, visible church on Earth, so that at some point the Church evolves to become the kingdom of God on Earth, making the kingdom partly spiritual in nature and political at the same time.

Because I view the Bible as a revelation of God to man, I take its words literally whenever and wherever possible, understanding  that there are portions of the inspired Word meant to be taken as allegorical; things like parables, for example, are not meant to be taken literally, although their meanings are. Even within the words of Bible prophecy, care must be taken to arrive at an interpretation that honors the integrity of Scripture and the writer’s original intent.

God does not want His people ignorant, especially where His plan for their future is concerned. The phrase, “God’s people,” takes in the nation of Israel, saints from the Old Testament on, Christians who have passed on and those alive today. God wants us all to know what our future holds. He doesn’t want us to be fearful or confused about what may or may not happen to us or our children. Most of all, God wants all of His people to know that He has a plan for them and for this planet.  God wants us to know that He created us and our world for a purpose – His purpose, not ours. He wants us to have hope in His plan and faith in His purpose. So, while what the Bible has to say about the Millennial Kingdom may seem difficult to understand, there is a great reward in the effort. Naturally, there is a great value in reading and studying all of the Bible, but God has a special reward in store for those seeking to understand the words of prophecy:

If you read this prophecy aloud to the church, you will receive a special blessing from the Lord. Those who listen to it being read and do what it says will also be blessed. For the time is near when these things will all come true. (Revelation 1:3 TLB)

Let’s get blessed as we study the reign of Jesus on Earth.

Jesus will be the King

For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder. These will be his royal titles: “Wonderful,” “Counselor,” “The Mighty God,” “The Everlasting Father,” “The Prince of Peace.” His ever-expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule with perfect fairness and justice from the throne of his father David. He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations of the world. This is going to happen because the Lord of heaven’s armies has dedicated himself to do it! (Isaiah 9:6, 7 TLB)

Almost everybody knows these verses; they are recited and sung ad nauseam every Christmas. But beyond the first couple of phrases, “for unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given,” these “Christmas” verses have nothing to do with why we celebrate Christmas, but everything to do with Jesus’ Second Coming when He inaugurates the Millennial Kingdom. He will establish His government, but it won’t be done in grace.

“I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ ” (Psalm 2:7 – 9 NKJV)

There isn’t much grace there! Jesus came in grace and mercy the first time, but when He comes back the second time, it will be in justice and judgment.

Choirs also sing this verse at Christmastime:

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31 – 33 NKJV)

Once again, as with the Isaiah passage, only the first sentence concerns the first coming. Verses 32 and 33 haven’t happened you. Verse 31, a prediction when Mary heard it, is history to us. She did have a Son and she did call Him Jesus. But the next two verse are prophecies; they haven’t happened yet. But they will! When Jesus comes back verses 32 and 33 will happen just as surely as verse 31 did.

Our Lord isn’t on the throne yet. He may be on the “throne in your hearts,” but He’s not on the throne of “His father David.” He is not reigning over the house of Jacob yet. But He will.

The sphere of Jesus’ reign

So just how big will Jesus’ kingdom be? Big!

And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day there shall be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. (Zechariah 14:9 TLB)

“But my name will be honored by the Gentiles from morning till night. All around the world they will offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name shall be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:11 TLB)

The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10 TLB)

Get the picture? The prophetic book of Revelation puts it like this:

For just then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting down from heaven, “The Kingdom of this world now belongs to our Lord, and to his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 TLB)

You can be forgiven if you want to burst out in song as you read that verse. Handel put it in his Messiah. But it hasn’t happened yet. It will. King Jesus will rule over the whole world. Our world will become His kingdom and Earth will know peace for the first time in its history. For a thousand years, Jesus will reign as king.

Nature of His kingdom

It’s an interesting fact of history that a nation will rise or fall to the moral level of its leaders. I’ll reserve my comments about the present state of America and its current administration. But I will say this: When Jesus is King; when He is the final moral authority, His subjects – the nations of this world and their citizens – will rise to the moral level of His authority. Consider these facts:

Deliverance from the power of Satan.

He seized the Dragon—that old Serpent, the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years, and threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so that he could not fool the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterwards he would be released again for a little while. (Revelation 20:2, 3 TLB)

Can you imagine a world without an outside evil force? During the Millennium you won’t have to imagine it; it will be a reality! Satan will be forcibly bound during almost all of Jesus’ reign on earth. Finally man will be at peace with his neighbor.

But at last the whole earth is at rest and is quiet! All the world begins to sing! Even the trees of the woods—the fir trees and cedars of Lebanon—sing out this joyous song: “Your power is broken; no one will bother us now; at last we have peace.” (Isaiah 14:7, 8 TLB)

Universal harmony

There will be peace and there will be harmony all over the world.

He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4 TLB)

Low information Christians think that’s the UN talking, but it’s God’s Word through His prophet Isaiah. Jesus will “judge between the nations and rebuke many people.” While Satan is bound, man will still have his sinful nature. This is the Millennial Kingdom on Earth, not the eternal state. Jesus will keep the peace like no nation could. There will be no more war. No more armies.

Prosperity

There will be an abundance of grain in the earth, on the top of the mountains; its fruit shall wave like Lebanon; and those of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. (Psalm 72:12 NKJV)

There will be food enough for all the people on Earth. Of course, there’s plenty of grain today, but political pressures keep farmers from selling it to those who need it. Once all those regulations are gone, grain and produce will flow around the world. There will be earth-changes, too. The planet will simply produce more food.

Man will live longer

But he won’t be taking pills to make it happen! Look –

No longer will babies die when only a few days old; no longer will men be considered old at 100! Only sinners will die that young! (Isaiah 65:20 TLB)

The people of Israel will no longer say, “We are sick and helpless,” for the Lord will forgive them their sins and bless them. (Isaiah 33:24 TLB)

You can’t imagine that, can you? A day when lifespans will be greatly increased because Jesus will be King. Of course, people will die. Human beings don’t live forever. Again, this isn’t Heaven; it’s not the eternal state. But the Bible makes it clear that man will live longer during the Millennium.

Salvation for the lost

There will be unsaved people all over the Earth during the Millennium. Not everybody under the rule of Jesus will be true worshippers. But, salvation will still be available to those who need it.

O kings and rulers of the earth, listen while there is time. Serve the Lord with reverent fear; rejoice with trembling. Fall down before his Son and kiss his feet before his anger is roused and you perish. I am warning you—his wrath will soon begin. But oh, the joys of those who put their trust in him! (Psalm 2:10 – 12 NKJV)

The implication is that during the Millennium, all people and all nations will “serve the Lord,” to the extent that they will live in obedience to Jesus’ laws. Even then, though, there will be those who will be obeying by their actions but not with their hearts. To those, the word of the Lord is “fall down and kiss Jesus’ feet.” Even during the Millennium, the unsaved will be called to make a decision to serve Jesus with their whole hearts.

Honor for the saints and glory for the Savior

Blessed and holy are those who share in the First Resurrection. For them the Second Death holds no terrors, for they will be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6 TLB)

Don’t you know that someday we Christians are going to judge and govern the world? So why can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? (1 Corinthians 6:2 TLB)

Those are Christians – Jew or Gentile believers, it doesn’t matter. Followers of Jesus Christ will rule with Him.

His name will be honored forever; it will continue as the sun; and all will be blessed in him; all nations will praise him. (Psalm 72:17 TLB)

Jesus is coming again. He will establish His kingdom. The nations of this world will be judged. These things will happen. We looked at a tiny portion of the hundreds of verses of Scripture that talk about these future events. It’s very easy forget about these glorious prophecies. When times are good, we don’t worry about the future. When times are bad, we get all discouraged and frustrated. Christians need to know that their God is in control, He has a plan, and this world is moving inexorably to the fulfillment of that plan.

Three Appearances, 5

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Eschatology is the study of last things; the events of the last days. It’s by no means settled theology. Within the bounds of orthodox Christianity, opinions vary greatly as to the order of the events of the last days, or even if some of those events will be real or not. I’ve already mentioned the doctrine of the Rapture, the great snatching away of the Church just prior to the the revelation of the Antichrist and the Tribulation. Many Christians believe this will happen. I’m one of them. Yet at the same time, some Christians do not believe in the Rapture. They allegorize and spiritualize certain passages of Scripture that proponents of that doctrine take literally. In the end, though, whether or not you believe that a rapture will take place is for you to decide yourself, after you yourself study the what the Word has to say. Believing it or not doesn’t impact your salvation one wit.

The same “controversy” surrounds the personal reign of Jesus Christ. All believers must believe in the literal, physical, visible return of Christ to the earth. That’s a primary doctrine. But the idea of a literal Millennial kingdom, like the rapture, is a source of some contention. Those who think that God is done with Israel (many in the Reform camp think this) don’t see a literal Millennium. The rest of us see the Millennial reign of Christ as an absolute imperative because of the many promises God made to the nation of Israel – promises of ultimate deliverance and restoration.

There are many prophecies in the Old Testament foretelling this future reign of Christ. Chief among them is what Zechariah had to say. His visions and prophecies are messianic and millennial. Take a look –

Zechariah 2:10

“Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. (Zechariah 2:10 | NIV84)

“Daughter of Zion” is another way of talking about Jerusalem. Elements of the Christian church have appropriated this verse (and ones like it) for themselves. “Zion,” they say, is really the Church. However, this is God talking through His prophet, and God spoke of Zion. The normative way to read “Zion” is not to replace it with “the Church,” but to leave it alone. God is not talking about the Church, He is talking about Zion, a hill in Israel associated with Jerusalem. This is a prophecy given to God’s people and the way to read it is to read it the way they would have read it.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21 | NIV84)

So this word of prophecy, then, concerns a time when the Messiah will come to Zion, Jerusalem, to live among His people. This is not a “spiritual coming,” but a literal one. One day, our Lord will return to earth and He will return to Jerusalem and He will live – at last – among His people. This obviously hasn’t happened yet. This can’t be referring to His first coming.

Zechariah 6:12, 13

Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’ (Zechariah 6:12-13 | NIV84)

This passage speaks of an actual event in Zechariah’s time. Three men had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon after the end of the Jewish captivity there. What’s interesting about these three men is that they returned all on their own; they were not part of either of the two groups that would constitute the remnant that would rebuild Jerusalem. Their names were: Heldai (“robust”), Tobijah (“God’s goodness), and Jedaiah (“God knows”). Jewish names are always important, especially here, given what was about to happen. If we link these names together, as God intended us to do, we learn something important: God knows that through His goodness He intends to put His king upon the throne, and He will do it in a robust, powerful manner.

Here’s what Zechariah was to do:

Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. (Zechariah 6:11 | NIV84)

This is a bizarre verse for a couple of reasons. First, the high priest Joshua was to be the first king after the Babylonian Captivity. Funny thing is, it was Zerubbabel, not Joshua, who was in the line of David. Originally, only descendants of David were to be kings of Judah. Yet, here God told Zechariah not to anoint a descendant of David’s but another. Why? It’s because the next descendant of David to sit on the throne will be The Lord Jesus Christ after He returns to earth to establish His kingdom.

The other bizarre aspect of this verse is that God expressly told the Israelites not to combine the offices of high priest and king, and yet here God intended Joshua the high priest to also be the king. What’s that all about? Zechariah didn’t know it, but he was really foreshadowing the fact that one day, the true High Priest would return to earth as King of Kings. The then-high priest Joshua, a variant of the name Jesus, is representative of Jesus Christ, our great High Priest today. This fact is borne out in Hebrews.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15 | NIV84)

Jesus is our great High Priest right now, today. After His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and is function as our High Priest in God’s presence now.

Here’s something really interesting. In the three appearances of Jesus, we see not only the three aspects of our salvation, but also His three-fold ministry. At His first appearance, Jesus came to earth to minister as God’s prophet – He came to speak for God; He Himself was the Word of God even as He revealed God in human form. At His second appearance, in heaven, Jesus is working as our High Priest, ministering for us before God the Father. At His side, Jesus intervenes for us when we sin; He prays for us to His Father. And one day, at His third appearance, He will come back to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Zechariah 14:3, 4

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. 4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (Zechariah 14:3-4 | NIV84)

Chapter 14 is the last chapter of Zechariah and it is wholly prophetic. The prophecies in this chapter have never been fulfilled – not historically in Israel, not in our present day. These are true “last days” prophecies. When we read Zechariah 14, we are reading about events yet to occur, events that will usher in the end of time as we know it. You will find many liberal Bible scholars who reject the prophetic word; who will allegorize and spiritualize these prophecies. To people like that, prophecy is anathema. They fight tooth and nail strip the supernatural from the Bible. When you do that, you open the door to all manner of strange interpretations.

A good rule of thumb is to take the words of the Bible – even words of Biblical prophecy – literally whenever and wherever possible. Read the Bible in the normal way; the way the original readers would have read it. Understand it as they would have. Make sure you know its context. In other words, know what came before and after the passage or verses you may be looking at.

Looking at 14:3 this way, we see a picture of Israel’s great Deliverer who will come to fight for His people. When our Lord returns to earth, this is how He will come and this is why all those Jews who are looking for their Messiah will recognize Him.

Verse 4 is a thrilling verse for Christians and Jews alike. It will literally happen. Just look at the specifics; these are real places, real locations. Our Lord will return exactly as prophesied here. When Jesus returns, He will touch down and stand on The Mount of Olives.

Zechariah 14:9

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name. (Zechariah 14:9 | NIV84)

Well, it can’t be any plainer than this. When Jesus returns, He will be King. When he comes back, there will be one Lord. Do you understand what that means? No false religions. No more death cults. Only Jesus.

Then will I purify the lips of the peoples,that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (Zephaniah 3:9 | NIV84)

This verse tells us what will happen after the dark days of judgment. It means that with Jesus as King, there will be no blasphemy. There will be no profanity or vulgarity or repulsive, offensive speech. The language spoken on earth when Jesus is King will be pure. Not only that, man will serve the Lord. In other words, there will be no rebellion against God or the things and people of God.

This Millennial kingdom of Christ’s – a true theocracy – will be a wondrous place to live. Earth will finally have its “utopia.” Man has always wanted to build his utopia, by the way. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of utopia took place in the twenty third century. On Star Trek, nobody needs money and earth is at peace. But the idea that man will evolve all the badness out of himself and that technology and knowledge will make money a thing of distance memory is preposterous; it  just isn’t possible. Because even in the twenty third century, man will still need to use the bathroom and not every citizen of earth will be the captain of a starship. Somebody will to clean the toilets, and what if that janitor doesn’t want to? Peace and harmony will only be possible when God makes it possible, dealing with the stain of sin in man. It’s not man’s environment that makes man a sinner.  More on that next time.

Three Appearances of Jesus, 4

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In all, Jesus will make three appearances, each corresponding to an aspect of our salvation.  His first appearance on earth as a baby in a manger brought God’s plan of salvation down to man from the Father.  His second appearance was in Heaven, after His death, resurrection and ascension.  There, Jesus makes intercession for His people, maintaining their salvation.  Our Lord’s third and final appearance will be when He returns to earth in power and glory.  This will be the consummation of our salvation.

When Jesus returns to earth, He will be returning with His saints.  Let’s take a moment to distinguish Jesus’ returning with His saints and His coming for them.

Some results when He comes for His people 

We call this event the Rapture.  Jesus will appear in the clouds for His people, but He won’t touch down on earth.  His purpose will be to remove believers from the earth just prior to the Tribulation, a period of seven years during which God will pour out His wrath on the nations of the world in judgment.  He will also bring Israel to its knees, metaphorically speaking, for the purpose of bringing them into His family.  Given the main purposes for the Tribulation, there is no need for the Church to be here.  Even so, during this time there will be many converts to Christ; great revivals will break out and even in the midst of God’s judgments, the Gospel will be preached.

Here’s what will happen when Jesus comes for His people:

The resurrection of the dead in Christ. 

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord.   (1 Thessalonians 4:16  TLB)

What a stirring passage of Scripture!  The Lord Himself – not an angel – will step out of heaven to personally call His people to Himself.  He won’t be sending surrogates get His people.  When He returns to establish His kingdom on earth, He will send His angels to do the ground work, but He will be the One gathering His people.

He will descend with a “mighty shout.”  Jesus didn’t do a lot of shouting during His time on earth, but He did shout at Lazarus to come out of the tomb.  There will also be the “soul-stirring cry of the archangel” and the “great trumpet-call of God.”   It is Jesus who will be commanding the “dead in Christ” to rise.  His voice alone will be orchestrating the events on earth.   This is what Revelation refers to as “the first resurrection.”  The apostle Paul wanted to part of this group:

So whatever it takes, I will be one who lives in the fresh newness of life of those who are alive from the dead.  (Philippians 3:11  TLB)

The transformation of the living.

Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up…  (1 Thessalonians 4:17a  TLB)

As the Lord descends, the saints will ascend to meet Him in the air.  That phrase, “caught up,” is from the Greek verb harpazo, meaning, “to seize and carry off speedily, to catch away.”  This is where we get the term, rapture.  There will be a glad reunion with the departed and resurrected loved ones:

Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.  (1 Thessalonians 4:17  TLB) 

It is here that this event will occur:

It will all happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For there will be a trumpet blast from the sky, and all the Christians who have died will suddenly become alive, with new bodies that will never, never die; and then we who are still alive shall suddenly have new bodies too.  For our earthly bodies, the ones we have now that can die, must be transformed into heavenly bodies that cannot perish but will live forever.  (1 Corinthians 15:52, 53  TLB) 

What a marvelous day this will be.  It will be an orderly event:  the dead will be raised first, followed by the living.  That last phrase is, to me, the most exciting one:  and remain with him forever.  Nothing and no one will be able to take us away from our Lord.  Little wonder Paul said this:

So comfort and encourage each other with this news.  (1 Thessalonians 4:18  TLB)

The things we’ve been talking about shouldn’t terrify or confuse any believer.  The teaching of the end times, and in particular the rapture, should be a comfort to all believers.  That word “comfort” also means “exhort.”  Believes are to talk about these things to comfort, in the traditional sense, but also to exhort each other.  Jesus will be taking His Church out of the earth one of these days, ready or not.  The dead will be lifted out of their graves first, followed by the living and together we will be standing with the Lord, in His presence forever.  In fact, we will be coming back with Him to the earth when He physically, literally and visibly returns to earth.

Some results when Jesus appears with His people.

Jesus will have a job to do when He comes back.  He will –

Manifest His own. 

Part of living right is thinking right.  According to Paul, one motivation for living and thinking right is the prospect of a glorious future:

And when Christ who is our real life comes back again, you will shine with him and share in all his glories.  (Colossians 3:4  TLB)

Part of our glorious future will be our manifestation alongside Christ when He returns.  He second coming will be full of majesty and splendor, and we will be right there, in the midst of it.  Lightfoot’s ancient comments still make you shiver:

The veil which now shrouds your higher life from others, and even partly from yourselves, will be withdrawn.  The world which persecutes, despises, ignores now, will then be blinded with the dazzling glory of the revelation.  

Punish the disobedient. 

And so I would say to you who are suffering, God will give you rest along with us when the Lord Jesus appears suddenly from heaven in flaming fire with his mighty angels, bringing judgment on those who do not wish to know God and who refuse to accept his plan to save them through our Lord Jesus Christ.  They will be punished in everlasting hell, forever separated from the Lord, never to see the glory of his power…  (2 Thessalonians 1:7 – 9  TLB)

This is not an insignificant thing that Jesus will do.  Right now, we see criminals and evil doers getting away with it.  The justice system seems to be a joke and the perpetrators of crimes seem to get more consideration than the victims.  But we are assured that when Jesus comes back, He will mete out perfect justice.  Nobody will be getting away with anything.

Closely related to His punishment of those who are disobedient, will be what happens to the nations of this world.

Judge the nations. 

But when I, the Messiah, shall come in my glory, and all the angels with me, then I shall sit upon my throne of glory.  And all the nations shall be gathered before me. And I will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and place the sheep at my right hand, and the goats at my left.  (Matthew 25:31 – 33  TLB)

The grip nations have on their citizens and their ungodly rule of this world will finally be broken as our Lord calls them to account for the godlessness.

Restore Israel. 

No, God is not finished with Israel.  Not by a long shot.  Some churches teach something called Replacement Theology, which says that God is done with Israel and that the Church has taken its place.  Therefore, all the promises made to Israel may now be claimed by the Church.  That’s not only bad theology, it’s anti-Semitic.  When Jesus returns He will completely restore national Israel.  It will finally be the nation God always intended it to be.

The Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem; the weakest among them will be as mighty as King David! And the royal line will be as God, like the Angel of the Lord who goes before them!  For my plan is to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.  Then I will pour out the spirit of grace and prayer on all the people of Jerusalem. They will look on him they pierced, and mourn for him as for an only son, and grieve bitterly for him as for an oldest child who died.  (Zechariah 12:8 – 20  TLB)

I want you to know about this truth from God, dear brothers, so that you will not feel proud and start bragging. Yes, it is true that some of the Jews have set themselves against the Gospel now, but this will last only until all of you Gentiles have come to Christ—those of you who will.  And then all Israel will be saved. Do you remember what the prophets said about this? “There shall come out of Zion a Deliverer, and he shall turn the Jews from all ungodliness.  At that time I will take away their sins, just as I promised.”  (Romans 11:25 – 27  TLB) 

Destroy the Antichrist. 

The Antichrist will be, and he may already be, a real person.  He will be the big political leader during the Tribulation.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.  But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  (Revelation 19:19, 20  TLB)

Rule the nations. 

Our Lord will judge the nations but He won’t destroy them; He will rule them.  The world will – and even today already is – desperate for a political savior; that one brilliant politician who will make everything right and undo all the damage done by previous leaders.  The fact is, only Jesus will be able to do this.

In his days may the righteous flourish and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.   May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.  (Psalm 72:7, 8  TLB) 

The Lord will be king over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.  (Zechariah 14:9  TLB)

Some signs of signs of His coming. 

While there are no signs for when the rapture may occur – it could have happened any time in the past and can happen any time in the future – there are many, many signs that will point to the Second coming of Jesus.

We know that the Bible does not teach that the Church will convert the world.  That just isn’t going to happen.  We know that the world will be in terrible shape just before Christ comes.  Things may be bad now, but imagine how things will be with the Church it taken out of the way?  All the horrible things that will take place during the seven-year Tribulation will be the signs pointing to Christ’s return.

The preaching of the Gospel. 

Yes, even though the Church will be taken away, many people will come to know Jesus during the Tribulation and they will take the message of salvation all over the world.

And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it, and then, finally, the end will come.  (Matthew 24:14  TLB)

Of course, the Gospel  has been preached since the days of the Apostles, and it’s being preached today.  But during the Tribulation, with the convergence of Bible prophecy and the knowledge that supernatural events are occurring, many will find the Lord and preach the Gospel in spite of the danger.  There will be many martyrs during this time, but if history teaches us anything, it’s that the more pressure the world exerts against believers, the harder they pushback.  The Gospel will be preached around the world like never before.

The budding fig tree, Israel. 

Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. In the same way, when you see the events taking place that I’ve described you can be just as sure that the Kingdom of God is near.  (Luke 21:29 – 31 TLB) 

The fig tree is symbolic of the nation of Israel.  God doesn’t keep time with a Timex.  If you want to know how far along we in God’s prophetic timetable, look to the nation of Israel.

This parable is found in all three Synoptics, but is most complete in Matthew 24.  The fig tree represents Israel.  Her revival will be the harbinger of the Messiah’s return.

Perilous times. 

You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian.  (2 Timothy 3:1  TLB) 

Then there will be strange events in the skies—warnings, evil omens and portents in the sun, moon and stars; and down here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  The courage of many people will falter because of the fearful fate they see coming upon the earth, for the stability of the very heavens will be broken up.  Then the peoples of the earth shall see me, the Messiah, coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  So when all these things begin to happen, stand straight and look up! For your salvation is near.  (Luke 21:25 – 28  TLB) 

Perilous is a good word to describe the days just preceding the Second Coming, for sure!

The cry of the Bridegroom’s friends. 

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.  (Matthew 25:6  KJV) 

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night…  (2 Peter 3:10a  KJV)

We don’t know when the rapture will occur and we don’t know when Jesus will come again, but the fact of His coming is settled in Scripture.  He is coming.  And He will be here when the world is least expecting Him.

We aren’t in the Tribulation yet, no matter how bad circumstances may be, but even now the signs pointing to His return are obvious to those of us who are looking.  The way things are going, with all the violence and uncertainty all over the world, now more than ever, all believers should lift up their heads, and know that their redemption draweth nigh.

The Three Appearances of Jesus, 3

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The second coming of Christ to the earth, which is the third appearance of Jesus, begins with the rapture of the saints (the “blessed hope” of the Church), followed by the visible, literal, and physical return of Christ to the earth with His saints, where He will rule and reign for one thousand years.  This period is known as the Millennium and, among other things, will bring national Israel into God’s family and establish universal peace.

That paragraph, which large chunks of the Church believes, has caused a lot of theological violence over the years thanks in part to the adherence of certain denominations to something called The Westminster Confession of Faith which is a wonderful document written by men in an attempt to systematize and categorize the elements of Christian doctrine.  It’s a worthy attempt at this but, as worthy as this document is, it is necessarily flawed as it written by man.  The WCF (as it is known) devotes a scant sentence or two to the doctrine of the Second Coming.   Since the document fails to mention the rapture, the Millennium, and other Biblical elements of eschatology, churches that wholly embrace it  will have nothing to do with them.  In fact, sometimes, they are downright nasty in their opposition to them.  For some unfathomable reason  they feel positively threatened by people who hold to this orthodox, historical version of Eschatology.

Before going any further, let me assure those who may hold to a different view of Eschatology that I am not your enemy!  I have no war with you, nor do I think any less of you.  I think the WCF is an awesome document.  However, when it comes to doctrine and theology, I am of the opinion that it is better to go to the best document available:  the Holy Bible.  It’s helpful to know what others think the Bible says, but it’s essential to know what Bible says.  No Christian needs the Westminster Divines, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, me or any other great or near-great Christians to tell them what and how to think.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16  NIV) 

With that out of the way, let’s discuss an unnecessarily hotly disputed point.  Will our Lord return before or after the Millennium?  There are those who say He will return before the Millennium; that He is One who establishes the Millennium.  Others teach that Jesus will return after the Millennium.  Still others – hold on to your seats – teach that we are in the Millennium right now.  The Bible contains the truth, and that’s what we need to know.  According to the Good Book, what will the world look like when Christ returns?  What will be the condition of man at the moment He returns?

The testimony of the prophets, Daniel 12:1, 2 

“At that time Michael, the mighty angelic prince who stands guard over your nation, will stand up and fight for you in heaven against satanic forces, and there will be a time of anguish for the Jews greater than any previous suffering in Jewish history. And yet every one of your people whose names are written in the Book will endure it.  And many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”  (TLB)

These two verses seem to put to death the notion that we are in the Millennium right now.  This is what society will look like at the tail end of the Great Tribulation, just before the Jesus returns.  We know this because Jesus used language just like this to describe world conditions just prior to His return.  But here, Daniel’s vision concerns his people, the Jews.  It will be a dark time for them “at that time,” a phrase that designates the end of the end times.  It will be a time of unparalleled anguish and suffering.   Obviously there will be no utopia on earth.

What the Gospels say

The Second Coming of Jesus will be preceded by a time of terrible distress on earth that will touch both Jew and Gentile.

Then there will be strange events in the skies—warnings, evil omens and portents in the sun, moon and stars; and down here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  The courage of many people will falter because of the fearful fate they see coming upon the earth, for the stability of the very heavens will be broken up.  Then the peoples of the earth shall see me, the Messiah, coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  (Luke 21:25–27  TLB) 

The kingdom of God, which is by definition “God’s rule and reign,” is here now but will be consummated and fully established at our Lord’s second coming.  To look at the what the world is like now,  it’s hard to imagine that the Lord “ruling and reigning!”  But He is.  Matthew 13 gives us a realistic view of the pathetic state of the kingdom of God as it is constituted right now.  It will be even worse just before Christ returns.

Let both grow together until the harvest, and I will tell the reapers to sort out the thistles and burn them, and put the wheat in the barn.  (Matthew 13:30  TLB) 

That’s the tail-end of a parable which tells of a farmer’s wheat field that has been infested with weeds.  The workers wanted to go out and pull all the weeds but the owner of the field, God, told His workers to hold off.  Pulling weeds – judging between saint and sinner – is not the job of the workers.  The point of that parable is that in the kingdom now are many who don’t belong here.  Just look at the state of the Christian church today.  It’s hard to know who the players are without a program!

When I return the world will be as indifferent to the things of God as the people were in Noah’s day.  They ate and drank and married—everything just as usual right up to the day when Noah went into the ark and the Flood came and destroyed them all.  And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot: people went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and brimstone rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the hour of my return.  (Luke 17:26 – 30  TLB) 

The key words in what Jesus said are:  “Noah’s day” and “days of Lot.”  In case you forgot, neither of those days were particularly good days!  Sin was rampant.  In fact, man had deteriorated to such a state that God had no choice but to execute a devastating judgment.  In the case of Noah’s day, all life on earth was destroyed, save for the life aboard the ark.  In Lot’s day, the sinful inhabitants of a whole valley were killed.

Yes, the world was at its worst during the days of Noah and Lot.  No, things will not get better and better before the Lord returns.  It’s clear things will get worse and worse.

“But the question is: When I, the Messiah, return, how many will I find who have faith and are praying?”  (Luke 18:9  TLB) 

That’s a rhetorical question Jesus asked.  The self-evident answer is “None.”  In other words, faith will be in very short supply when Jesus comes back.

What the letters say 

It’s not only Jesus who talked about His second coming.  Paul did.  Here’s a sampling:

But the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some in the church will turn away from Christ and become eager followers of teachers with devil-inspired ideas.  These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences won’t even bother them.  (1 Timothy 4:1, 2  TLB) 

There has always been false teaching in the church, but it’s rampant today.  But then you can’t have false teachers in the church without eager listeners and followers in the pews.  Today’s Christian is so Biblically illiterate, it’s a sad testimony to members of my profession.  Today’s Christian will believe just anything!  They have no discernment and no understanding of or even desire to understand deeper spiritual things.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  They have itchy ears and will follow anybody whose teaching makes them feel good.

For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them, and thoroughly bad.  They will be hardheaded and never give in to others; they will be constant liars and troublemakers and will think nothing of immorality. They will be rough and cruel, and sneer at those who try to be good. They will betray their friends; they will be hotheaded, puffed up with pride, and prefer good times to worshiping God.  They will go to church, yes, but they won’t really believe anything they hear. Don’t be taken in by people like that.  (2 Timothy 3:2 – 5  TLB) 

That’s not an editorial from “Christianity Today!”  It IS Christianity today, as seen from a vantage point of some 2,000 years ago.  Jesus once said that His church would prevail; that even the gates of Hell wouldn’t stand against it.  He was right; Hell won’t wreck the church because church members are doing a good job of that on their own.

First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of and laugh at the truth.  This will be their line of argument: “So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation.”  (2 Peter 3:3, 4  TLB) 

When there is no respect for the teachings of Scripture or the institutions of faith, people stop taking the doctrines of faith seriously.  Naturally we see this occurring in the world all the time; that shouldn’t surprise us at all.  But we are starting to see it happening in the church.  Bible teachers and pastors making fun of those of us who take Bible prophecy seriously; questioning the intelligence of their fellows who are doing exactly what the Bibles admonishes Christians to do:  watch and pray.

Once again, I ask the question: Why is knowing this important?  A lot of Christians think it isn’t.  They think it’s a foolish waste of time talking about future events that they don’t even think will happen.  And even if they are going happen in the future, what of it?  How does what will happen effect us in the here and now?  Don’t we have enough trouble today?

What we’ve been looking at today is what theologians call “the Tribulation.”  It will be period of seven years preceding the Second Coming.  It’s important to know about this time of God’s wrath because the Bible has a lot to say about it.  To dismiss the Tribulation is to dismiss large portions of the Old Testament, including whole books.  It is to dismiss the Word of the Lord to His people.  It is to dismiss significant teachings of Jesus – the Olivet Discourse – and most of the book of Revelation.  Understanding the Tribulation is to understand why “the Gospel of the kingdom” is so important and even what it is.  To dismiss the Tribulation is to dismiss God’s people, the Jews.  God’s purpose for Israel as far as the Tribulation goes is to bring about their conversion so that they may finally receive the promised blessings of prophecies dating back to Abraham.

But not only is the Tribulation vital to the future of Israel, it also demonstrates that God knows what’s going on today.  God will be judging the nations during this seven year period.  They will be judged because of their ungodliness.  This is not unimportant.  Just look around at what the nations of the world are doing:  killing innocent people; oppressing others; stealing wealth they’re not entitled to; passing laws robbing their own citizens of freedom, religious and otherwise.  They have to be punished; somebody has to hold them accountable for their atrocious actions.  God can’t give these nations a pass, and He won’t!

This is why knowing what will happen is so important.  God’s very character is at stake.  Without these seven years, God comes off looking uninformed, uncaring, uninvolved and disinterested in the world He created and the people He loves.


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